Thursday, March 24, 2011

Who is ahead of the game? - Chinese War for No. 1 Spot

I read an article recently that claimed that that USA is more than No. 1 economy in this world and there is no comparison between China and USA. He cited China's medical system, which is at a stage today that USA passed 30 years back. I agree with his hypothesis and I not only think that US did it 30 years back, but USA is still moving in a big way. Recent disruption in Japan raised questions on USA's capabilities for evacuation in the advent of a similar event. Well, look at China. They have only 11 reactors operating and they are constructing an additional 10 each year. Who is overseeing that?

As you can testify using gazillion trivial examples, that USA has taught innovation and governance lessons to this world. Its core strength is the constant infusion of super-brains from all over the world. USA encourages that brain to think and act ahead of time and build innovative systems when the rest of the world is adopting 10 year old technologies and criticizing most technology evangelists.

This should be noted that total no. of nuclear plants in most Asian countries are less than what USA has in one state. USA has adopted nuclear power years back and controlled it well so far in a much broader geography. We should audit those countries first that have almost no experience and trying to do it in one shot. These countries need to first build the credibility that they "care" for human beings more than their reputation by  relaying correct information and asking for help when needed.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Seven steps to better brainstorming

A. Plan
1. Know your organization’s decision-making criteria
Likewise, what constitutes an acceptable idea? At a different, smarter bank, workshop planners collaborated with senior managers on a highly specific (and therefore highly valuable) definition tailored to meet immediate needs. Good ideas would require no more than $5,000 per branch in investment and would generate incremental profits quickly. Further, while three categories of ideas—new products, new sales approaches, and pricing changes—were welcome, senior management would balk at ideas that required new regulatory approvals.  
2. Ask the right questions
Decades of academic research shows that traditional, loosely structured brainstorming techniques (“Go for quantity—the greater the number of ideas, the greater the likelihood of winners!”) are inferior to approaches that provide more structure.1 The best way we’ve found to provide it is to use questions as the platform for idea generation.
It’s easier to show such questions in practice than to describe them in theory. A consumer electronics company looking to develop new products might start with questions such as “What’s the biggest avoidable hassle our customers endure?” and “Who uses our product in ways we never expected?” By contrast, a health insurance provider looking to cut costs might ask, “What complexity do we plan for daily that, if eliminated, would change the way we operate?” and “In which areas is the efficiency of a given department ‘trapped’ by outdated restrictions placed on it by company policies?”2
3. Choose the right people
choose participants with firsthand, “in the trenches” knowledge.
B. Execute 
1. Divide and conquer - The real action
To ensure fruitful discussions like the one the catalog retailer generated, don’t have your participants hold one continuous, rambling discussion among the entire group for several hours. Instead, have them conduct multiple, discrete, highly focused idea generation sessions among subgroups of three to five people—no fewer, no more. Each subgroup should focus on a single question for a full 30 minutes. Why three to five people? The social norm in groups of this size is to speak up, whereas the norm in a larger group is to stay quiet.

When you assign people to subgroups, it’s important to isolate “idea crushers” in their own subgroup. These people are otherwise suitable for the workshop but, intentionally or not, prevent others from suggesting good ideas. They come in three varieties: bosses, “big mouths,” and subject matter experts.

The boss’s presence, which often makes people hesitant to express unproven ideas, is particularly damaging if participants span multiple organizational levels. (“Speak up in front of my boss’s boss? No, thanks!”) Big mouths take up air time, intimidate the less confident, and give everyone else an excuse to be lazy. Subject matter experts can squelch new ideas because everyone defers to their presumed superior wisdom, even if they are biased or have incomplete knowledge of the issue at hand.

By quarantining the idea crushers—and violating the old brainstorming adage that a melting pot of personalities is ideal—you’ll free the other subgroups to think more creatively. Your idea crushers will still be productive; after all, they won’t stop each other from speaking up.

Finally, take the 15 to 20 questions you prepared earlier and divide them among the subgroups—about 5 questions each, since it’s unproductive and too time consuming to have all subgroups answer every question. Whenever possible, assign a specific question to the subgroup you consider best equipped to handle it.
2. On your mark, get set, go!
After your participants arrive, but before the division into subgroups, orient them so that your expectations about what they will—and won’t—accomplish are clear. Remember, your team is accustomed to traditional brainstorming, where the flow of ideas is fast, furious, and ultimately shallow.

Today, however, each subgroup will thoughtfully consider and discuss a single question for a half hour. No other idea from any source—no matter how good—should be mentioned during a subgroup’s individual session. Tell participants that if anyone thinks of a “silver bullet” solution that’s outside the scope of discussion, they should write it down and share it later.

Prepare your participants for the likelihood that when a subgroup attacks a question, it might generate only two or three worthy ideas. Knowing that probability in advance will prevent participants from becoming discouraged as they build up the creative muscles necessary to think in this new way. The going can feel slow at first, so reassure participants that by the end of the day, after all the subgroups have met several times, there will be no shortage of good ideas.

Also, whenever possible, share “signpost examples” before the start of each session—real questions previous groups used, along with success stories, to motivate participants and show them how a question-based approach can help.

One last warning: no matter how clever your participants, no matter how insightful your questions, the first five minutes of any subgroup’s brainsteering session may feel like typical brainstorming as people test their pet ideas or rattle off superficial new ones. But participants should persevere. Better thinking soon emerges as the subgroups try to improve shallow ideas while sticking to the assigned questions.
3. Wrap it up
By day’s end, a typical subgroup has produced perhaps 15 interesting ideas for further exploration. You’ve been running multiple subgroups simultaneously, so your 20-person team has collectively generated up to 60 ideas. What now?

One thing not to do is have the full group choose the best ideas from the pile, as is common in traditional brainstorming. In our experience, your attendees won’t always have an executive-level understanding of the criteria and considerations that must go into prioritizing ideas for actual investment. The experience of picking winners can also be demotivating, particularly if the real decision makers overrule the group’s favorite choices later.

Instead, have each subgroup privately narrow its own list of ideas to a top few and then share all the leading ideas with the full group to motivate and inspire participants. But the full group shouldn’t pick a winner. Rather, close the workshop on a high note that participants won’t expect if they’re veterans of traditional brainstorming: describe to them exactly what steps will be taken to choose the winning ideas and how they will learn about the final decisions.
C. Close
1. Follow up quickly
Decisions and other follow-up activities should be quick and thorough. But the odds that concrete action will result from an idea generation exercise tend to decline quickly as time passes and momentum fades. communicate the results of the decisions quickly to everyone involved, even when an idea was rejected. While it might seem demoralizing to share bad news with a team, we find that doing so actually has the opposite effect. Participants are often desperate for feedback and eager for indications that they have at least been heard. By respectfully explaining why certain ideas were rejected, you can help team members produce better ideas next time. In our experience, they will participate next time, often more eagerly than ever.
Courtesy McKinsey & Company:. Read full article here: